Ashcroft’s mayor Barbara Roden and Cache Creek village councillor Wendy Coomber both attended their fourth Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention (UBCM) in Vancouver from September 23–27 this year.
Both emphasized the benefits of networking at UBCM and making connections with other local governments, particularly those from other small, rural communities.
Cache Creek’s mayor Santo Talarico did not attend UBCM this year, which Roden said is not unusual, as it’s quite an expense to send local officials to the conference annually. Additionally, Roden acknowledged that it can be a challenge for some council members to obtain time-off as they also hold regular jobs in their small communities.
“It’s not unusual for a full council not to attend UBCM,” said Coomber, who noted that this year’s UBCM was not as dynamic as past conferences, but was still well worthwhile.
One of the highlights for Coomber was a focus on emergency management and the roll-out of a new 911 program that she feels will benefit communities across the province.
Ashcroft’s mayor Roden was accompanied at UBCM by the village’s new CAO Anne Yanciw as well as councillors Tuohey, Anderson, and Davenport. Councillor Anstett was unable to attend any of UBCM.
“We had two minster’s meetings with the minister of health and the minister of transportation,” said Roden, during which time Roden was able to have some “frank discussions” about issues in Ashcroft and surrounding areas. “For example, with the transportation minister, we talked about the need for better highway controls and safety measures at the junction of Highway 1 and Cornwall Road where the Esso Travel Centre and the Tim Horton’s is.”
The minister of transportation expressed awareness of these issues and said that in the meantime, they’re going to put in measures at that junction to make it safer for everyone.
At the “Small Talks” forum on Tuesday morning, which asks for success stories and special presentations from small communities of under 5,000 people, Roden also presented a successful talk of her own.
“Small communities are often facing the same issues, so this year I proposed a presentation about the lack of cell-phone coverage in Northern B.C… highlighting many stretches of highway that have no cellphone coverage whatsoever.”
The most extreme case she could call upon draws attention to the murders that took place in Northern B.C. this summer. Highway 37, explained Roden, has no cellphone coverage for 681 kilometres.
“In addition to highlighting this and calling on the federal and provincial governments and the cellphone providers to increase coverage, I also pointed out the necessity for having signage along the highways, just letting the travelling public know that there’s no cellphone service or intermittent cellphone service, as a safety measure.”
In August 2018 when a female motorist was swept away by a mudslide on Highway 99 just northeast of Cache Creek, the lack of cellphone coverage along that stretch of highway hampered first responders, Roden explained.
UBCM also included a lot of discussion around the Rural Dividend Fund being put on hold.
“[There was] a lot of anger from small communities about that,” said Roden.
Coomber noted that as a representative for Cache Creek, she also raised concerns about the cancellation of the program, which she feels will have a negative effect on communities.
“It’s like taking money from one pocket and putting it in another,” said Coomber. After bringing her concerns to a meeting with minister Doug Donaldson, Coomber said that Donaldson indicated the cancellation would be temporary.
Roden said the program was a great way to get funding to promote different projects in small communities.
“This is obviously a huge concern for rural communities,” she said. “Now that source of economic development money has been effectively cancelled for probably at least two years.”
Roden said that an emergency resolution was passed unanimously on the subject.
“Everyone is in agreement that the government really needs to revisit this and see about providing support for forestry workers and keeping the Rural Dividend Fund.”
Communities like Ashcroft are not forestry dependent, she explained, but are looking to stimulate the economy and increase economic development.
“The Rural Dividend fund was a huge help in doing that. Taking it away is just going to hurt communities.”
Roden doesn’t recall climate change resolutions ever being part of the annual conference; however, this year, there were well over a dozen, she said.
“I think this is something that we’re going to see more and more of as communities around the province grapple with climate change and what it means in their communities.”
Last Wednesday, when a convoy of logging trucks arrived in Vancouver to bring their concerns around the struggling forest industry to the direct attention of those attending UBCM, Roden had a front-row seat.
“The trucks were still rolling through at 7 p.m. at night, which is quite an amazing sight to see in downtown Vancouver,” she said. She added that some of the people watching had never seen logging trucks before.
“It was good because so much of the prosperity of Vancouver and of course the province as a whole comes from our resource sector. In many ways, a lot of the prosperity that people in Vancouver enjoy comes because of the forest industry so I think it was a great reminder to them that the forest industry might be located some distance from them but they depend on it. This is not just a northern or rural or central interior B.C. issue, this affects all British Columbians.”
For Coomber, there were more partisan politics than ever at UBCM this year.
Acting on behalf of Cache Creek’s mayor and council, Coomber also raised concerns around the Ashcroft hospital and emergency services, as well as the future of Historic Hat Creek Ranch.